Wednesday, July 09, 2008

National Taxpayer Advocate Sends 2009 Objectives to Congress

The other day National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson delivered a report to Congress identifying the priority issues the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate will address in the upcoming fiscal year. According to the IRS’ news release, the report addresses the three following key issues.

1. Tax-Related Identity Theft

The National Taxpayer Advocate’s 2007 Annual Report to Congress identified tax-related identity theft as one of the most serious problems facing taxpayers. The report stated that the IRS does not have adequate procedures in place to assist victims of identity theft and does not have adequate systems in place to quantify the number of tax-related incidents of identity theft that occur. The report made eight recommendations, including the creation of a centralized unit to handle identity theft cases and the development of a centralized set of procedures that cuts across IRS functions. The IRS has taken a number of steps to improve its procedures; notably, it has developed a Service-wide identity theft indicator and is studying the creation of a centralized unit to assist identity theft victims. During FY 2009, the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate will work with the IRS to improve its procedures in this area.

2. Cancellation of Debt Income

When an individual or business borrows money and the debt is cancelled, the borrower generally must include the amount of the cancelled debt in gross income. This requirement generally affects borrowers who lose their homes to foreclosure or who default on car loans or credit card debts. Taxpayers may exclude the amount of a cancelled debt from gross income under certain circumstances, but to do so, they must take the affirmative act of filing Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness (and Section 1082 Basis Adjustment), with their tax returns. Very few taxpayers file Form 982, and the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate has focused and will continue to focus on increasing public awareness of the rules and exceptions. It has worked with the IRS to simplify the instructions for Form 982 and to develop an IRS publication that covers the tax aspects of cancellation of debt issues comprehensively, produced podcasts (known as “TAScasts”) that are available online, and provided specialized training for Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) practitioners. The Office of the Taxpayer Advocate will continue to work with the IRS to simplify reporting procedures and will continue to conduct outreach to affected taxpayers and practitioners in FY 2009.

3. IRS Collection Practices

The National Taxpayer Advocate’s 2006 Annual Report to Congress raised a number of concerns about IRS collection practices. Joint working groups have been established to work on five issues – levies, allowable living expense standards, installment agreements, offers in compromise, and early intervention techniques. However, the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate remains concerned about additional collection issues, including resorting to seizures before all viable collection alternatives have been exhausted, under-utilization of partial-pay installment agreements, and excessive delays in collection that exacerbate taxpayer delinquency problems because of the accumulation of interest and penalties. The IRS is working with the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate to address these concerns, and the collaboration will continue in FY 2009.

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